The Infamous Waterfall Bubinga Log

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Many of you may have read the article in the April 2008 issue of Woodworker’s Journal, about how this now famous bubinga log made it’s journey from Africa to Minnesota with the help of Rocky Mehta of West Penn Hardwoods. I thought I would share some more behind the scenes details of how long this journey actually was and the trials that happened along the way…

Rocky has travelled to Africa several times to purchase bubinga and ebony for our company, West Penn Hardwoods. His trips to Africa can be very stressful and there have been moments when he has thought of giving up. This has made for some interesting stories!

I remember the first trip he made to Cameroon, on his first day’s journey into the jungle. He was amazed at how deep they had to trek into the jungle where there was no electricity and yet, the small village they came across had COLD BEER!! He still hasn’t figured out how they keep the beer cold with no electricity…

Now Rocky is from India where it can get quite hot and yet when he came back to his hotel from the jungle, he called to tell me how he had to wring the sweat out of his underwear! He even had sweat on his eyelashes…Now that is HOT!!

Although he stayed at a five-star hotel, Douala is not a very safe city. He was told by the staff that he should not leave the hotel after dark and during the day you must carry your passport and shot records with you at all times. The military police can stop you at any time and if your documents are not in order they will arrest you and detain you for in indefinite period of time.

After buying the log, it was sent to Germany. Many people have asked us why send it to Europe instead of the USA? The Europeans, especially the French and Germans have strong ties in Africa and are sawing these kind of big logs on a regular basis…no lumber company in the US can handle a log this big. This particular log was so big that even the saw mill in Germany couldn’t slice through it completely. They actually had to saw off one edge of the log to make it smaller so it could fit in the saw. Rocky spent several days from morning until night standing in front of this huge saw overseeing the cutting of this very special log.

At one point, the log got stuck in the saw and it took several hours for a crew of men to unjam it. This was a potentially dangerous situation and luckily they were able to get the log back on track.

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When the log finally arrived at our warehouse in Olean, NY, we were just amazed. The figure is among best we have come across and there are boards that are up to 60″ wide! This is definitely a one-of-a-kind log and we are so happy that it is going to be accessable to the whole country through the Rockler Woodworking Stores.

Cocobolo – The Underground Story

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On a recent trip to Central America to purchase cocobolo for West Penn Hardwoods, Rocky was happily surprised to discover an area where the cocobolo stumps have grown vertically along and under the ground! It seemed as though wherever a cocobolo tree had been cut down, the stump sprouted new shoots that not only grew up but also vertically.

Sprouting Cocobolo Shoots

Over time the lower branches were covered with sand, water and other sediment and only recently did our supplier discover this untapped stash of old growth cocobolo. It seems that during the rainy season the trees may become water logged and bend with the weight of the water. They continue to grow along the ground and can only be harvested during the dry season. We have found this cocobolo to be some of the most beautiful we have seen yet…maybe the exposure to water has deepened the color and grain? We have been able to get ahold of some really nice large cants that have been resawn into turning stock, pen blanks and of course, lumber. Some of the material is left in cant form for luthiers who want to buy to to make guitars.

Underground Cocobolo

They also found old growth cocobolo which was left over from a fire and was buried under the sand. These logs were most likely the leftovers from a planned fire to clear land for farming which is common in this region. The logs looked quite ugly on the outside, but when they were cut open the richness of the color and figure were incredible. This material was mainly sold to luthiers for guitars because of the unique color and quality.

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Hopefully Rocky will continue to find these unexpected treasures in the jungles around the world!